Audio interviews with 5 forest defenders about the Rapid River blockade in May 2018.
Sound design and editing by Stefan Niedermeyer and Sarah McConnell, 2019
C: G’day. My name’s Chris. I’m here in the Tarkine at the moment, up a tree, taking a stand against old growth forest logging here in the Tarkine. It’s just absolutely appalling that these amazing places are being logged still, and wood-chipped. It’s just insane. So while that’s still happening, there are people that are going to be fighting, and I’m really proud to be a part of that fight. And that’s why I’m here.
E: It’s hard to trace back when I actually first heard about the Tarkine. I think I’d heard about it for a long time but I didn’t think about what was actually there. And then I was living in a sharehouse and one of the people in the sharehouse was very passionate about Tasmania and of course, any conservationist who is passionate about Tasmania is passionate about the Tarkine. So I learnt to love it from a distance and then when I was offered to go on a trip I was like “Yeah!”... I had no idea what I was in for, but yeah.
A: I was living in the Tarkine for 2 months. Time is not even a thing. 2 months could have been 200 years or 2 minutes. And I was there for Autumn so all the mushrooms and mycelium were just blooming. Every day I’d see something new. Every day something would die.
T: And if you think about all of that biodiversity and all that connection within that little space… when people go in and destroy it they don’t even know what they’re destroying. We don’t even know what’s in there. We’re just sort of starting to understand it.
E: It’s not just the trees, it’s the ecosystem that’s being destroyed.
C: I first heard about the Tarkine a few years ago while i was travelling around in Tasmania with a friend of mine. Did a couple of walks around the area and that was my first sort of... introduction to the forest, but I wasn’t really aware of the issue or the logging that was going on in the area and the broader campaign, and yeah, that’s how I first heard about it.
Driving through Burnie and seeing those huge piles of woodchips and just knowing that there’s some of the Tarkine in there is just... yeah… it’s awful. The logging happens down unmarked roads and behind locked gates and if everyone knew what was going on and what was at stake, I think people would be outraged.
S: I guess the disconnection from these places happens long before these places are destroyed. We’ve already removed ourselves from these environments and that’s why we don’t know what it is that we’re losing.
T: There were lots of different, varied actions that were coming out of Frankland as a base, but I think one of the kind of strongest stands we took and the most intensive action that we did was definitely at Rapid River.
We were going to scout to see what damage had been done or what had happened since we had last been at Rapid River because they were actively logging that bit and it was... urgh... just yeah, it was so beautiful and so diverse and I remember on the drive out in the night we were checking out what was going on and if we could get in because they had moved a giant pile of rubble over one of the access roads. We were going in and moving the rubble to see what had happened and to see how much the devastation had grown, and just in casual conversation one of our members was going “oh I would love to do a sit in here, there’s a perfect peppermint tree... a gum tree right there… if only we had someone who could do it.”
C: The last person who had been arrested for direct action in Tassie was Bob Brown, and it was the first time there were some really intense protest laws that had been passed I think in 2015, and then after Bob Brown was arrested, he contested it in the High Court and I think he actually got off and the laws were changed, so it was the first time that an action was happening where those laws were going to be challenged.
It just happened in the car I think, we were just sort of chatting about the area, chatting about the different actions that had happened at the camp and also different potentials and I just sort of said “why not do a tree-sit?” and the people there said “well we don’t have anyone to put their hand up to be arrested or anything like that” so I sort of said “oh well… I… I’d be happy to… yeah! Sure! I’d be happy to put my hand up to do that!” So then it was like “Oh! Ok. Oh, well then… let’s start planning for that then!” and it all sort of happened very quickly.
S: At like… 2am or something.
C: Yeah! And then the next day practicing climbing and preparing for it all and yeah it was the second day being there. It was really full on, but, you know, I definitely felt like I had the capacity to put my hand up to do that and had wanted to do something like that for a really long time for the Tarkine and for the people here that had been there for so long.
S: At about 8:00 at night we set off and reached the logging coupe just after dark I think. And it was a full moon so you could see everything. No one needed headtorches. And we rolled into the coupe and this was the first time that I had seen the devastation. With the full moon you could just see the whole area illuminated by this really soft light, and my heart just sank. Everything had just been ripped apart and there was no sense of that essence in that space anymore. It’s just silent.
So we said “ok we need somebody to make us a fire, someone to put up a tarp, we need people to put up the tree sit…” and by the time we had managed to start a fire, I turned around and the tree-sit was already up.
T: I woke up to someone yelling “TRUCK!” Me in my wisdom, I had been one of the last ones to go to bed and I had seen this tarp set up across the road… but I’m envisioning a truck hurtling around it…
E: And the tarps just there and people were sleeping underneath the tarp.
T: So I don’t think I’ve ever gotten up out of a sleeping bag or out of a tent quicker. “TRUCK! WOAH! Ok… I’m not dead… no one’s run me over. Oh. But there’s an angry man asking me to move things.” and he says, “Ah I’m sick of this. What is this? Get that tarp down, get it out of the way!” and I was like, “Nah mate. Tarps not going down. This is what’s happening. See that up there? That’s rigged to that, that’s rigged to that. There’s a human in that sit and this is what’s happening today.”
One of the workers that came was one that we’ve seen at other actions and he was just like, “Oh yeah, hi guys.” and he was really chilled out so we were like, “Oh yeah hey man”, and he was going to get the keys out of the machine and we said, “Oh you do realise if you move that, she will drop?” and he was like, “Oh yeah, no no no oh no, it’s alright I know. I’m just taking the keys, just making sure YOU guys don’t go for a drive.” so I said, “Ah cool.”
A: You know, the loggers themselves, they’re just humans that care about, you know… a whole multitude of things, and they’re actually really genuine and quite friendly.
T: A lot of them just want a job to support their families.
A: Yeah true. And it doesn’t come down to their jobs or whatever, but yeah, when we’re rocking up to put them out of their job for the day they actually really take it quite well.
S: None of us want to upset people. None of us want to. It’s really sad that you have to put people out to do what you believe in. It’s not a pleasant experience and the confrontation is not what you’re there for.
“I’m sorry, there’s not going to be any work today. We’ve got a person up a tree which is tied off to the logging machines, and if any part of this situation moves, the person in the tree could fall and seriously injure themselves or die.” Which I guess is the really scary thing about doing this sort of stuff…
C: Yeah you are actually putting your life on the line. It’s a scary thought.
It was sad having the perspective, because being so high up you could sort of see the scale of the destruction and looking down it was just so horrifying to see how much they had already done. But then also being able to see and have the view of some of the mountains and the valleys that were around to make up the forest that was still intact.
S: We had the police show up. The police liaison was talking to the police and then was like “I’ll go and let everybody know what you’ve said so that we can decide what we’re going to do as a group.” But of course everybody was spread out around the coupe in different areas, and your buddy was under the tree, and it took a long time to get to her. She was playing a song on this xylophone that was ringing throughout the coupe. It was so absurd and out of place in that situation where it’s drizzling and there’s people in high vis waiting for us.
E: We were told we had a certain amount of time to all gather together so that they could tell us all at once the official “you have to leave, if you don’t leave then you will be arrested.”
S: It started to rain pretty heavily. The sky went really dark very quickly. It was bucketting at that point. Eventually we were just like, well, we have to leave or we’re going to get arrested…
C: I didn’t know what was going on. I knew that everyone had left. The police came to the base of the tree and read the same thing, that if I stay then I’ll be arrested, and asked me if I wanted to come down. And I realise now that I probably shouldn’t have spoken to them. In that split second I just sort of didn’t really know what to do, I just wasn’t sure, and then I thought, no, well I’m here now I might as well just try and stay. So I said, “No I’m not going to come down”.
And then the weather got absolutely insane, and I was just sort of sitting cross-legged in the centre of it, with my face in my hands. My sleeping bag was starting to get drenched, and the whole thing was rocking and I could see the flashes of lightning through the tent. And all I could think of was that there was metal on the frame, and that I’m in a lone tree standing in an area of cleared forest. It got really dark there for a second and just thinking, “I’m alone here”. And I had those questions and those thoughts and I was just trying to keep it together.
Eventually, after what seemed like forever it finally calmed down a bit, and I just thought to myself “I have to get down”. And so I started going down and then the police obviously saw me trying to get down and so they met me at the base of the tree, and I think immediately I was just like, “Yeah, pretty shit weather hey?” and he was like, “Yeah what are you doing up there mate?” and I was like, “Oh well, you know, this area of forest is being logged…” and immediately I think just the craziness of the situation sort of de-escalated the whole thing. They were lovely to me, the two police officers. They took my name and address and said that they were going to have to take me to the police station.
The police officers sort of said to me like, “Why did you do this?” and I said, “You know… this area of forest needs to be protected and it’s not ok that it’s being destroyed. It might seem crazy or extreme to you, but for me it seems like a perfectly reasonable reaction to something that’s… you know… fucking awful.”
These places, you log it and it never recovers and it never goes back to the way that it was. Even if it did it would take thousands of years - something that we would never see in our lifetime, and it’s some of the last of it left.
I got released from the station after about 10 minutes. I just went to a local cafe and bought a phone charger, plugged my phone in and got a hot chocolate. And then my phone starts ringing, and it’s an unknown number, and I answer it… and it’s Bob Brown! And he goes, “Oh I hear that you were arrested today, and that you spent the night up in a tree!” And I was just like... I burst into tears and was like “BOB! Oh my God!” Yeah, I didn’t really know what to say, but he was just so nice and just said, “Thanks for what you did”, and I was like “No no no Bob, thank YOU! You know, it’s just been a night. You’ve been doing this for fucking… years and decades! You’re a hero!” and he was like “well I hope you rest well, and don’t worry about the fines, don’t worry about the court we’re going to sort all that out for you.” and I was just like, “Oh thanks Bob! You’re so nice! Fuck!”
And yeah, after that I think I just sat there bawling my eyes out. To the people at the cafe… I was just covered in mud, drenched, had my helmet, and my drenched harness on the floor, just crying silently into a hot chocolate and eating cake. They were just looked at me really weird and they were slowly packing up and I think I was still crying and I said “I’m sorry I’m here… I’m going to leave soon.” and they were like “No no no it’s fine! Don’t worry about it.”
S: Stopping logging for a day is still a hell of a lot of money that it’s costing them, and it’s still a story to get into the newspapers, especially because this sort of thing hasn’t happened in a while, so we were confident we were going to get media, which we did. There’s so little that’s preventing that place from being taken away. It’s just a business deal.
C: We’re at crisis. We’re at emergency, and things need to change, and extreme action needs to be taken.
T: It’s the life that supports us, so why not use some of my life to support it? To see such injustice and to see such devastation and to not say or do something about it… it just doesn’t feel like an option any more.
E: I feel like I have a connection and a responsibility to the land that I walk on.
C: By actually spending long periods of time out there and getting to know the place, like you said, it creates this really powerful drive to actually, you know, really do something and affect change. The logging that’s happening in the Tarkine, it links to so many things. It links to extinction of native animals, extinction of ecosystems, it’s assault on a place that has existed for millions of years and been taken care of for thousands of years by Aboriginal people living in that area, and on so many levels it’s just wrong.
S: Yes, it’s about stopping logging in the Tarkine, but it’s symptomatic of a much bigger problem. We’ve totally lost touch with why we’re here and how we exist in harmony with everything else around us.
Here Today, by Sarah McConnell presents new print works commissioned for ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019.
For more information on saving takayna/Tarkine, visit the Bob Brown Foundation website: https://www.bobbrown.org.au/